Tag Archives: leadership

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama’s Governus Interruptus

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Obama is a Uniquely Lazy, Ignorant, Weird President Who Has Done More to Undermine Faith in American Democracy Than We Could Have Imagined In Our Worst Nightmare

Obama will go down in history as a unique president. Because he’s black*, obviously.

Also because he’s a uniquely weird guy: a politician who knows nothing about politics — and doesn’t seem interested in figuring it out. Even while his presidency is in crisis, he’s so obliviously impassively oblivious you have to wonder if he’s living in the same dimension as the rest of us.

Officially (Dow Jones Industrial Average, rich people’s incomes, the fake unemployment and inflation figures issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the economy is recovering. Officially, the wars are ending. (“On the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, not so much.) Yet Obama’s approval ratings are plunging, even lower than other recent two-term presidents at the same point in time — including the vile, insipid, illegitimate usurper Bush.

No wonder: Obama’s messaging is lousy. John McCain, a zillion years older than the president he lost to and operating with a brain damaged under torture, can see it — so why can’t Obama?

That’s what McCain was wondering aloud after a panel convened to advise Obama about the NSA issued its report: “Most presidents would have now given a speech and said, ‘OK, here’s what the recommendations are; here’s what I think we ought to do.’ Instead, it just came out.” Like a wet turd. “There’s not a translation of facts and events to remedies that the president supports.” How hard is it to tell the panel to submit their ideas to him first so he can repackage the ones he agrees with as his own? That’s Management 101.

Obama is ignorant. Doesn’t have a clue what his minions are up to. Which is bad. Obama’s ignorance is devastating because he lets us know that he doesn’t know. Reagan only read single-page memos, and though Americans suspected he was daft, they didn’t know. It makes a difference.

Chiming in from the even-a-right-winger-who-loved-Bush-can-be-right-twice-a-year corner of The Washington Post op-ed page, Charles Krauthammer marvels: “With alarming regularity, [Obama] professes obliviousness to the workings of his own government. He claims, for example, to have known nothing about the IRS targeting scandal, the AP phone records scandal, the NSA tapping of Angela Merkel. And had not a clue that the centerpiece of his signature legislative achievement — the online Obamacare exchange, three years in the making — would fail catastrophically upon launch. Or that Obamacare would cause millions of Americans to lose their private health plans.”

Dude went to Columbia and Harvard. He seems smart. What’s wrong with him? Is he — as his former colleagues at the University of Chicago, who noticed that he never published — lazy? He’s certainly a far cry from the LBJ who, according to his biographer Robert Caro, routinely burned the midnight oil committing every sentence of every bill, ever, to memory.

Obviously, a president who finds time to watch sports, play golf and kick off for vacations for weeks at a time — while the global economy is melting down — hell, while his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare has all but completely imploded — is lazy as all get up. Still, there’s nothing new about presidential sloth. Reagan, Clinton and Bush all worked less than the average minimum-wage worker whose misery they were steadfastly ignoring.

Obama is unique, though. It goes beyond laziness. He doesn’t follow tried and true practices of presidential governance that have served his predecessors for more than two centuries. Intentional? Who knows? It seems more than likely that (and this is so outlandish that I’ve literally waited years to write these words) he is so ignorant of history that he doesn’t know why and how previous presidents have failed and succeeded. Because, let’s face it, if this is three-dimensional chess, he’s down three queens.

The most blinding example of Obama’s ignorance of/unwillingness to/disdain for the act of governing/politicking is what I call Governus Interruptus — delivering a major speech on a problem, then failing to follow up with a policy initiative (a bill, say).

“President Obama’s speeches…are often thoughtful, nuanced, highly evocative, and exceptionally well-delivered — and worse than inconsequential,” Amitai Etzioni writes in The Atlantic. “They raise expectations — a world without nukes! Ending global warming! Finally curbing gun violence! — but are not followed by much of anything. These barren speeches are one reason the public, and especially the young, are becoming disaffected from politics, bad news for any democracy.”

Speaking of LBJ: When he announced “a national war on poverty” with one objective — “total victory” — to lift up the people “who have not shared in the abundance which has been granted to most of us, and on whom the gates of opportunity have been closed” — he didn’t leave it at that. Food stamps, Head Start and other anti-poverty programs followed…laws that began as bills. Bills drafted by the White House and proposed to Congress, which the president strong-armed into passing.

Where is Obama’s nuclear disarmament bill? Why hasn’t he convened a global summit to address the environmental emergency, with the U.S. leading the way with dramatic initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases? Where is his gun control proposal?

Obama jawboned his way into the White House. Evidently Obama hasn’t read enough to know that talking isn’t governing.

Either that, or he doesn’t care.

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COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

21st Century Leadership

President Obama gives one speech after another on important issues: Guantanamo, the NSA, jobs and the economy, race relations. But then…nothing. No bills are proposed. He just talks…as if talking were enough. In other words, he governs the way he campaigned —€” purely based on platitudes. And apparently it’s enough.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lead, or Follow and Get Out of the Race

Voters Turn Against Pols’ Follow-the-Polls Strategy

In order to be a good leader, Disraeli said, “I must follow the people.”

Aided and abetted by toe-sucking pollster Dick Morris, Bill Clinton finessed the art of leading from the rear, relying on Morris’ tracking surveys to help him decide everything from whether to bomb Serbia to when and if to take a vacation.

By definition, however, leaders point where their followers should go. Americans haven’t seen much real leadership on the federal level since Reagan. Where there’s been progress, such as on gay rights, the President only stepped forward after public opinion had shifted enough to make it safe.

For the first time in 30 years, Dick Morris’ follow-the-voters strategy appears to be running out of steam. This year, the electorate seems to be hungering for presidents in the mold of TR, FDR and LBJ—old-school leaders who painted ambitious visions of where America could go and why it should, who took political gambles that the people might not be ready for what they had in mind, who anticipated crises and challenges before anyone else, and explained why we had to act sooner rather than later.

The craving for leadership is evident in the polls. Though personally popular and enjoying the advantages of incumbency, President Obama is running neck and neck against Mitt Romney, an awkward candidate from a minority religion who has trouble connecting with, and is seen as out of touch by, ordinary voters.

Democrats must be worried. Historically, Republican presidential nominees typically gain on Democrats throughout the fall. At this point in the game, Democrats need a substantial lead in order to emerge victorious in November.

What’s going wrong? Mainly, it’s the economy. It sucks. Still. Democrats say the President inherited the meltdown from Bush. But Americans blame Obama.

“The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake,” reports The New York Times. Obama’s big screw-up: “He tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program—and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.”

Recovery? What recovery?

The depressed housing market, coupled with the reduced purchasing power of tens of millions of Americans who lost their homes to eviction and/or foreclosure, makes recovery unlikely to impossible for the foreseeable future.

Many people, including yours truly, warned that the millions of Americans who were evicted under foreclosure, many of them illegally, were more “too big to fail” than Citigroup. Some, like former Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), voted for TARP, but urged the Obama Administration to condition the bailout on forcing the banks to refinance mortgages and write down principal to reflect the new reality of lower housing prices. “There was another way to deal with this, and that is what I supported: forcing the banks to deal with this. It would have been better for the economy and lots of different neighborhoods and people owning houses in those neighborhoods,” Marshall says.

Voters aren’t mad at Obama for not being clairvoyant. They’re pissed off because he ignored people who were smart and prescient in favor of those who were clueless and self-interested, like Tim Geitner. He may be about to pay a price for that terrible decision.

Tens of millions of Americans already have.

Speaking of leadership—the art of seeing what comes next and doing something about it—what looming problems are the political class ignoring today?

It’s too late to stop the 2008-to-2012 economic meltdown. But it’s still possible for Obama (or, theoretically, Romney) to get ahead of the economy—permanent unemployment benefits, anybody?—and other pressing issues.

Australia, for example, is taking the climate change crisis seriously.

Americans want leaders who point the way forward, to anticipate monsters we can’t yet imagine. For example, there is a huge looming crisis: pensions. In 10 to 15 years, Generation Xers will hit traditional retirement age. How will they eat?

Close to none have traditional defined-benefit pension plans. Gen Xers, who earn far less than the Baby Boomers at the same age, have been shunted into 401(k)s, which turned out to be a total ripoff: the average rate of return between 1999 and 2010 was 0.3 percent.

Total.

And much of that was withdrawn—under penalty—to subsist after layoffs.

“[Gen Xers] have no savings, and what they had was devastated by two market crashes,” said Andrew Eschtruth of the Center for Retirement Research. “They never got off the ground.”

If you’re 45 years old now and just beginning to save for retirement, financial planners say you should save 41 percent of your income annually (if you haven’t gotten laid off again). As if. Half of Gen Xers live hand to mouth; the rest save a piddling six percent a year.

The Gen X retirement crisis represents 46 million people waiting for a savior—and 46 million potential votes.

Attention Mssrs. Obama, Romney and anyone else presenting yourself as a would-be leader: Don’t just read the polls. Don’t follow us. Show that you care about, and have a credible plan to confront, the problems of the future. If you do that—and we’re not holding our breaths—we’ll pay attention to you.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where’s the Legacy?

Political Malpractice and Missed Opportunities under Obama

I’m on book tour, promoting “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.”

In “The Book of Obama” I argue that Obama is America’s Mikhael Gorbachev. Like Gorby, The One (Oprah’s phrase) is the most progressive, decent and intelligent leader his system is willing and able to allow to rise to power; like the reformist of perestroika, Obama’s fundamental not-so-badness—coupled with his…ineffectiveness? cluelessness? conservatism? exposes the fact that the system is the problem. That voting for a better/less evil leader can’t bring about the changes we need, because what the 99% view as problems—unemployment, underemployment, the growing gap between rich and poor—are things that the system views as not merely desirable, but necessary. Its raison d’être.

Among progressives it’s a given that Obama has been a disappointment. At my signings people keep asking me: Why? Why hasn’t the president lived up to the hopes and dreams we invested in him? Sure, the Republicans have blocked him at every turn. But he doesn’t seem to try.

Why not? Is he a wimp? Or were liberals wrong about him—was Obama an establishment conservative from the start?

I don’t know what’s in Obama’s heart. Frankly, I don’t care. It’s all about policies: either you’re for good policies, or you’re not. If you are, you fight for them with everything you’ve got. If not…

Like most pundits, I tend to focus on the negative. So this week let’s look at Obama’s signature accomplishments, the things he actually did get done: healthcare reform, his statement support for gay marriage, and last week’s Dream Act Lite, his order that Department of Homeland Security stop pursuing the approximately 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

It took three years for this President to do something that brought a smile to my face. So I owe him this: Nicely done, Mr. President. (Sure, it’s just a political ploy, a play for the Hispanic vote. But other things Obama should do, but won’t—unlimited unemployment benefits, assistance for foreclosure victims, a new WPA—would be popular too. Pandering to the people is called democracy.)

Millions of people—the lucky 800,000, their families and friends—finally have their foot in the door. Early signals from GOP bosses indicate reluctance, even if they win this fall, to revert to the bad old days of rounding up kids and deporting them to “homes” they don’t know, whose languages they don’t speak.

Yet, like so many of his more positive acts, it came later than it should. And it should have been built to last.

The Dream Act failed in December 2010, just after the Republican sweep in the Congressional midterms. It would have passed if not for the craven, bigoted “nay” votes of five Democratic senators spooked by the election results.

I keep thinking back to 2009. Democrats had both houses of Congress. A filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama enjoyed a worshipful media. Sky-high public opinion polls. Why didn’t the president propose the Dream Act then, when it would probably have passed, sparing 800,000 kids terrible uncertainty—not to mention those who got swept up during the last three years? (While we’re at it: what’s the point of letting kids stay in the U.S. and deporting their parents?

Back in 2009, was Team Obama guilty of political ineptitude? Obsessive focus on healthcare? We don’t know. The result of their neglect of young immigrants amounted to political malpractice at least, bigotry at worst. (There were, after all, more deportations of illegals under Obama than under Bush.)

Worse than too little and/or too late, Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage came so late that it might as well not have happened at all; by the time he spoke out, gay marriage had become a historical inevitability. Talk about political malpractice! What is more ineffectual than irrelevance? Like the Homeland Security directive on illegals, it came as big, good news to millions of people. But it could have been handled earlier, proactively, and—not incidentally—paying bigger dividends to the president’s reelection effort.

Less clear but with broader implications was healthcare reform. “Have you had enough of Obamacare?” Tim Pawlenty asked a crowd at a pro-Mitt Romney rally. “Yes!” they shouted. But there is no Obamacare. Not yet. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the Administration’s biggest achievement, it doesn’t go into effect until 2014. After, perhaps, President Romney takes office. What was Obama thinking? If nothing else, wasn’t he worried about his historical legacy?

My guess is that he cares less about his legacy, or changing things, than the political horse race. He likes winning as an individual more than he cares about changing the world.

Obama has a few chances left to prove me wrong. He could still close Gitmo by executive order. He could also propose a federal law legalizing abortion, forcing the GOP to counter the 77 percent of Americans who told the most recent Gallup poll that they’re pro-choice. It would be a bold move, one that would resolve the decades-long legal limbo that has left abortion rights in the hands of the Supreme Court. Is Obama incapable of bravery? Of vision? Or is he using the threat of a Romney SCOTUS to threaten women into voting for him?

No one knows.

All we can do is consider the president’s actions.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Leading From the Back

Obama Accepts 21st Century View of Gay Marriage

In the BDSM world the phrase “topping from the bottom” means conditional submission: when the sub questions or disobeys the instructions of his or her dom. Subverting the submissive role defeats the whole purpose of a BDSM relationship; it is thus frowned upon.

President Obama frequently engages in the political equivalent: leading from the back.

True leaders lead. They declare what society needs and tells it what it should want. Leaders anticipate what is possible. They open the space where long-held dreams intersect with current reality, allowing progress. “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Emerson advised.

The role of a leader has been clearly defined since the first time a member of a clan convinced his tribe they should follow him if they wanted to find more food. So why has it been so long since we Americans had real one?

In recent decades we have had two kinds of political leaders, bullies and followers. Beginning with Nixon but more so with Reagan and George W. Bush, Republican presidents have been bullies. Unwilling or unable to achieve the consensus of the majority for their radical agendas, they got what they wanted by any means necessary—corrupting the electoral process, lying, smearing opponents, and fear-mongering.

The Democrats—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—have been followers, and thus far less effectual. Leaders from the back.

Carter was the proto-triangulator, tacking right as a hawk on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, while ignoring his liberal supporters. Clinton famously relied on toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris to develop stances and market memes that synced up exactly with public opinion on micro mini wedge issues. Both men left office without any major accomplishments—unless you count their sellouts to the Right (beginning “Reagan”‘s defense build-up, NAFTA, welfare reform).

Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is classic Morris-style “leading from the back.”

“Public support for same-sex marriage is growing at a pace that surprises even professional pollsters as older generations of voters who tend to be strongly opposed are supplanted by younger ones who are just as strongly in favor,” notes The New York Times. “Same-sex couples are featured in some of the most popular shows on television, without controversy.”

No wonder: the latest Pew Research poll shows that 47 percent of voters support gay marriage, versus 43 percent against. (Among swing voters—of more interest to the Obama campaign—support is 47-to-39 percent in favor.)

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage,” Obama said days before the 2008 election. At that time, Americans were running 40-to-56 percent against allowing same-sex couples to wed.

I can’t read his mind, but I bet Obama was OK with gay marriage in 2008. Like most other educated people. Cynically and wrongly, he sided with anti-gay bigots because he thought it would help him win.

The president’s change of ideological heart was painfully awkward. “I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” he told ABC. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word ‘marriage’ was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.”

But now that’s changed, he said. “It is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

If Obama was a real leader, he wouldn’t care about offending “a lot of people”—i.e., right-wing homophobes. He would have gotten out front of the issue four years ago, when it mattered. The truth is, Vice President Joe Biden’s unscripted remarks a few days ago forced the issue.

Maybe Biden has the makings of a leader.

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay weddings. True, the president’s statement may hasten the demise of the vile Defense of Marriage Act, which blocks federal recognition of gay marriage (and which Obama’s Justice Department defended in June 2009). But it comes too late to be meaningful.

Gay marriage was a historical inevitability before Obama spoke.

That hasn’t changed.

“For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone-banked to help elect Barack Obama, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this president in the first place,” said Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, a pro-Democratic Party interest group.

Maybe so. I don’t see it that way. I see a nation that led itself on this issue. The public debated and thought and finally, at long last, concluded that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment before the law.

Obama didn’t lead us. We led him.

So tell me—what good is he, exactly?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)